Bloomberg Without Bloomberg
The industry may be retrenching, but Bloomberg News is expanding, bringing in big shots such as former Time Inc. chief Norman Pearlstine. As it looks to become the 21st century’s top news provider, its bizarrely scrappy culture—instilled by Michael Bloomberg and editor Matthew Winkler—may be written out of the story.
by Seth Mnookin
The founder: Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who created Bloomberg L.P. three decades ago.Photograph by Nigel Parry/CPi.
The last time Norman Pearlstine had a job in journalism, he spent his days across the street from Radio City Music Hall on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building, a lofty realm he mockingly refers to as magazine heaven because mere mortals never get to breathe its rarefied air. As editor in chief of Time Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the country, Pearlstine oversaw a stable of 154 titles,
including Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated. His office, with its leather couches and postcard-worthy city views, was larger than many studio apartments.
Pearlstine, who was raised and educated in Philadelphia and its suburbs, has long been a major figure in the Manhattan media world. After graduating from Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal, and over the next quarter-century he ran the paper’s Asian edition, launched its European edition, and served as the managing editor and executive editor of the Journal itself. He pays careful attention to his attire, favoring English spread-collar dress shirts, eye-catching cuff links, and preening ties. Pearlstine remains, at 66, intensely competitive, and when he becomes particularly excited about a topic, his eyes bug out slightly from behind his glasses.
Michael Bloomberg answers the Proust Questionnaire.Illlustration by Risko.
After retiring from Time Inc., in 2006, Pearlstine took a position at the global private-equity firm the Carlyle Group, but he didn’t stay out of the game for long: last June he started a new job as the “chief content officer” at Bloomberg News. Bloomberg L.P.’s headquarters are on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in a neighborhood that is at a distinct remove from the rectangular swatch of Midtown real estate that’s home to the majority of the city’s major media players. Instead of CNN, The New York Times, and the New York Post, Pearlstine’s new neighbors are Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bloomingdale’s. The culture is as different as the locale: at Bloomberg, Pearlstine has to wear his corporate dog tags on a lanyard around his neck just to get through security. As a general rule, using elevators is against company policy—Michael Bloomberg, the company’s founder (now exploring a run for a third term as New York City’s mayor), feels elevators cut down on the type of human interactions that breed collaborative work—so if Pearlstine wants to meet with someone on a different floor, he has to either take the stairs or hop on an escalator along with the hoi polloi. Gone is the private office; here, both of Pearlstine’s workstations are smaller, and have less privacy, than that of his former secretary.
All of which is fine by him. As far as Pearlstine is concerned, what really differentiates Bloomberg News from all of the Establishment outlets he’s been at in the past is the fact that it is still making money. “I haven’t felt this energized in a long time,” he told me on his second day in his new digs. “I can’t stress enough the excitement.”
The news that Pearlstine had taken the Bloomberg job prompted a rush of articles in the city’s media pages. By bringing on one of the best-known members of the Old Guard, Bloomberg News got more attention than it had received in the 18 years since Michael Bloomberg created it after realizing that
his eponymous financial-information company had to start producing exclusive editorial content if it wanted to safeguard against an erosion of subscribers to its computer terminals. Even today, after a two-year period in which Mike Bloomberg flirted with a presidential run and in which secretive negotiations concerning a possible sale of his company valued it at upwards of $20 billion, very little is known about an operation with one of the largest editorial staffs in the world. (Bloomberg himself owns just about 90 percent of Bloomberg L.P. Based on recent valuations, its annual operating profit is estimated to be more than $1.5 billion.) Still, Pearlstine’s hiring seemed to prompt more snobbish curiosity than anything else. To wit: when asked about Pearlstine’s new job, Paul Steiger, who succeeded Pearlstine at the top of the Journal’s masthead in 1991, told the Times that Bloomberg News was “not fundamentally a journalistic organization.”
The reaction among his former colleagues didn’t surprise Pearlstine; in fact, before his job discussions began, he hadn’t known all that much about his future employer, either. He hadn’t known, for instance, that Bloomberg News’s 2,300-person staff is larger than the combined editorial operations of the Times and The Washington Post, or that included among its 135 bureaus are 30 in the Asia-Pacific region alone, or that Bloomberg had not so much been bucking the industry-wide trend toward contractions as obliterating it. While Pearlstine’s successor at Time Inc. has had to cut staff, Bloomberg News has added more than 300 in the past several years. A number of those have been high-profile defections from the decimated world of print media, including former Wall Street Journal Washington editor Al Hunt, formerPhiladelphia Inquirer executive editor Amanda Bennett, and former Time political columnist Margaret Carlson.
This growth is likely to continue: company chairman Peter Grauer and president Dan Doctoroff, the two former investment bankers who run Bloomberg L.P., have been taking advantage of the retrenching in the rest of the print media by finding ways to fill the resultant voids. Today, 10 papers around the world, including the Spanish-language edition of The Miami Herald andTages-Anzeiger, the second-largest daily in Switzerland, run branded Bloomberg News pages on topics that these newspapers can no longer afford to cover. Over the past several years, as big-city dailies, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, have either killed off or dramatically cut the size of their book-review sections, Bloomberg’s arts division has expanded its culture coverage with an eye toward placing more of its content in daily newspapers. One of the country’s metro dailies is looking into outsourcing all of its health reporting to Bloomberg News as a way of meeting corporate-mandated budget cuts without decreasing its coverage areas.
Finally, after years of what resembled a policy of institutionalized neglect, Bloomberg’s multi-media divisions are being beefed up in a major way. In October, the company hired Andrew Lack, the former president and chief operating officer of NBC, to run Bloomberg’s Internet and radio operations and its 11 television channels, based everywhere from Germany to Japan. Like Pearlstine, Lack had been enormously successful—he transformed NBC News into the country’s highest-rated network news division in the 1990s—and like Pearlstine, he jumped at the chance to join up with an organization that was focused on expanding its reach instead of stanching its losses.
These ambitious efforts are in part driven by concerns about Bloomberg’s near-complete dependence on its terminals. While subscriptions are up around 8 percent over last year, the economic turmoil roiling the country does not augur well for the immediate future of any company that is so intimately entwined with the world of high finance. (Lehman Brothers alone had more than
3,000 subscribers, although some of those users will presumably end up with new jobs.) But diversifying also carries significant risks. By expanding its mandate, Bloomberg News is deviating from a mission that has proved to be so successful for so long: obsessively and single-mindedly providing content for the company’s core customers. But for the moment at least, it looks as if we’re moving toward a world in which more people will get their information from Bloomberg News than from any other single source. That might sound fantastical, but if you had speculated in 1980 that in less than 25 years a bare-bones start-up launched by an unemployed, five-foot-six-inch Jewish man from Medford, Massachusetts, would supplant Dow Jones and Reuters as the world’s primary distributor of financial data—which Bloomberg L.P. did in April 2004—well, that would have sounded pretty fantastical, too.
All of this—the higher profile, the big-name hires, the active expansion—should represent a crowning achievement for Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg News’s volatile founding editor in chief. But it’s more complicated than that. In the last half-century, only a handful of visionaries could claim to have created a new journalistic paradigm through sheer force of will. There’s Hugh Hefner’s Playboy and Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone.Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch gave birth to CNN and Fox News, respectively. Then there’s Winkler and Bloomberg News. But while Wenner’s obsession with order and Turner’s mood swings are well documented, very little is known about Winkler; when the city’s boldfaced columns do acknowledge him, it’s usually to chronicle his abusive tirades or to mock his penchant for bow ties (or both). Since Pearlstine, who had given Winkler his first big break back in 1982, was hired, the top echelon at Bloomberg has consistently maintained that Winkler would remain the person running the show. By this fall, despite the company’s protestations, that pretense had been all but dropped: in July, three months before Lack’s arrival, Winkler lost control of Bloomberg News’s multi-media operation. (The company-wide meeting about those changes was set to the Beatles song “Revolution.”) Then, in September, the 52-year-old Winkler revealed that he was stepping back from a chunk of his responsibilities on the print side as well. “A good part of my day, every day, when I’m not on the road, has been in story meetings,” he explained. “There are at this point better ways for me to spend my time.”
According to Bloomberg L.P. spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak, all of these moves originated with Winkler himself. “They are part of Matt’s own plan to reorganize the news department,” she said. “He wants to be more involved in training and passing on his wisdom to new staffers. He is doing more public speaking.” If that sounds a bit like the hoary line about some fallen C.E.O. stepping aside to “spend more time with his family,” that’s because in essence it is; in fact, it directly contradicted some of what Winkler had told me less than four months earlier, after I asked him how he and Pearlstine would divide their duties now that they were working together again. Winkler, sitting in the glass cube that serves as a semi-private meeting area behind his desk in the company’s newsroom, told me that he would be happy even if he was doing nothing more than leading the daily news meetings and editing stories. “I can’t imagine [doing anything else],” he said. “I live every day for the story. It’s the one part of all this that really gets me excited.… I go to bed thinking about the stories we’re going to have tomorrow, and I wake up wanting to see what they look like and what the reaction is.… I love stories. It’s as simple as that.”
The new face: Norman Pearlstine, named last May as the chief content officer of Bloomberg News. Photograph by Nigel Parry.
Now it looks as if he’s being written out of his own masterpiece. Regardless of people’s opinions of Winkler—and over the years he’s been called everything from ruthless to batshit insane—there’s a certain poignancy to his current situation. It’s almost as if Winkler, having led his people through the desert, is being told he’s not allowed into the promised land.
Bloomberg L.P.’s horseshoe-shaped headquarters look and feel like a cross between the worlds of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian classic Brazil and Pixar’s Toy Story. There’s so much glass that it seems at times as if the only rooms without transparent walls are the restrooms. Upon entering the operation’s main floor, visitors are greeted by a BlackBerry-toting employee—more often than not a winsome young woman—who is wirelessly alerted by one of the security guards at the building’s entrance to every impending arrival. The walls are inlaid with fishtanks stocked with exotic, brightly colored species from around the world. Neon news zippers fight for attention with high-concept, ultra-modern art, including a chandelier programmed to blink out text by a Welsh Marxist writer, and an 11-by-16-foot titanium-alloy cloud, which is suspended from the ceiling. Every 10 minutes or
so, a techno-inflected jingle rings out over a building-wide intercom, signifying that someone, somewhere, is being paged.
This mandated whimsy obscures what’s long been the company’s ruling ethos: we’ll provide you with everything you could ever need, which means you won’t ever have to leave. Bloomberg L.P.’s offices around the world offer free food—in New York there is everything from Cup-a-Soups and microwavable Chinese lunches to Rice Krispie Treats and Oreos. Emergency survival kits, complete with hand-cranked radios and gas masks, are located under every desk. “There was a part of it I sort of liked,” says one former employee, who requested anonymity because he writes finance-themed books and has appeared on Bloomberg Radio as part of his promotional tours. “The mentality is that, if you’re there, you’ll get taken care of. That’s part Orwellian and part paternalism.” The free junk food was great, he said, “but it was there to keep us from going out for coffee.”
This approach is also reflected in what has been Bloomberg News’s sui generis business model. Virtually every print outlet makes its money through some combination of single-copy sales, subscriptions, and advertising. Now, with consumers less willing to pay for content, and advertisers migrating to the Web, that old-school approach is looking less viable with every passing day. Bloomberg News doesn’t run ads, and it doesn’t charge its customers for content—at least not directly. The four million stories it runs every year are fed directly to the company’s 290,000 terminal users as part of the only subscription option Bloomberg offers, an all-you-can-eat package that caters to the international financial community by featuring the company’s ever growing array of data and proprietary analytics. Historically, the news division’s worth has derived from the notion that every new story represents another morsel of added value to its customers, and nowhere is up-to-the-minute knowledge more powerful than in a world in which a one-cent change in a security’s price can result in billions of dollars in profits—or losses. (Bloomberg News also functions as a more traditional wire service, selling its content to newspapers worldwide.)
Not surprisingly, the news division was designed to mirror the working environment in high finance. Reporters sit cheek by jowl in partitionless workstations, a simulacrum of the Wall Street trading floors on which Mike Bloomberg made his fortune. For years, the ideal Bloomberg employee was one who was at his desk at seven a.m. and didn’t get up until he left for the day. (Reto Gregori, Bloomberg News’s chief of staff, says he’s broken himself of the habit of eating lunch since he started working here.) Bloombergers, as they sometimes call themselves, tend to be well put together, with the women in smart pantsuits and the men with their zippers and belt buckles carefully lined up. They also do well for themselves: in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for refugees from the newspaper world to come close to doubling their salaries. The difference these days is not quite so stark; still, Bloomberg News reporters can count on making more than they would elsewhere.
Both past and present employees love to complain about the endless hours, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Ask people in the business world and they’ll tell you that Bloomberg has long been the industry gold standard. “One of the big reasons you need that terminal,” explains a spokesman for one of the city’s major financial firms, “is that everyone talks about what [news stories are] running on Bloomberg.” (He asked to remain anonymous for fear of offending other news organizations that cover his company.) “We don’t think about Dow Jones or Reuters or the A.P. in
anywhere near the same kind of way, or as carrying the same type of magnitude. If I have a choice between giving an interview to Bloomberg or someone else, I never think twice about it.”
Over the years, the company has gained a grudging respect from the rest of the media world as well. In 1999, Bloomberg News was awarded one of the White House’s three coveted wire-service seats. Bloomberg News’s coverage of Washington is recognized for its foresight and clarity, and there are any number of stories the organization has led the way on, from the tobacco settlements of the late 1990s to the recent collapse of Bear Stearns. The company’s magazine, which started as a monthly user manual for terminal subscribers, is today known for its investigative reporting: in the past three years alone, Bloomberg Markets has won a George Polk award for health reporting, a Gerald Loeb award for excellence in business journalism, and two Investigative Reporters and Editors awards. Last year, it was a National Magazine Award finalist for “Toxic Debt,” a remarkably prescient three-part series published in July 2007 that detailed how bundled subprime mortgages were putting every aspect of the American economy at risk. In their own ways, each of those accomplishments is a testament to Matt Winkler’s ferocious will to succeed.
More than a quarter-century has passed since Winkler and Norman Pearlstine first crossed paths. At the time, the already renowned Pearlstine was assembling a staff for a new, Brussels-based European edition of The Wall Street Journal, and Winkler was a 26-year-old Dow Jones wire reporter. Intrigued by Winkler’s reputation as someone who got “wildly excited and emotional” about stories, Pearlstine decided to take a chance on the driven young man who had mastered the arcana of foreign-debt securities.
It didn’t take long for Pearlstine to learn firsthand about Winkler’s operating procedure. Every day, after Pearlstine finished his work in the newsroom, he made the 90-minute drive to the paper’s printing plant in the Netherlands, where he’d paste up that day’s pages in advance of a midnight deadline. One night at 11:55, a call was routed to Pearlstine from an editor in Brussels. It was Winkler. “He was yelling, ‘You’ve gotta stop the presses! I’ve got a great scoop!,’” Pearlstine says. “And I said, ‘O.K., Matt—what’s the story?’ And he said, ‘The Swedish Euro bond is going off at a half-point over the libor!’” Pearlstine was nonplussed. “None of us had a clue what he was talking about,” he says affectionately. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Who is this guy Winkler?’” The presses ran as scheduled that night.
A half-decade later, both men were back in New York—Pearlstine as the Journal’s top editor, Winkler as a bonds reporter. Neither Winkler’s nose for news nor his sense of outrage had dulled any, and when he learned that the Journal was contracting with a company called Bloomberg Financial Markets to provide the paper with the price of Treasury issues, he was incredulous. Why, he wanted to know, was the best-known financial-information company in the world paying another company for data? After an abortive effort at persuading his bosses to cancel theJournal’s contract with Bloomberg, Winkler decided to figure out exactly what the hell was going on.
On September 22, 1988, he and co-writer Michael W. Miller published their findings in the form of a glowing, 2,400-word front-page story about Mike Bloomberg and his six-year-old financial-information-services company. Despite the fact that Bloomberg provided its data and analytics to a total of only 5,000 terminals around the world—compared with 165,000 for Reuters and 67,000 for the Dow Jones–owned Telerate—few people, according to the story, were “as cagey about guiding the flow of information as Mr. Bloomberg, a 46-year-old with a puckish sense of humor and a
prodigious temper.” In the article, Winkler deftly identified Bloomberg’s business model: if he created an all-purpose, proprietary system through which he could give finance professionals all the information they needed in the course of their days, he could muscle in on his competitors’ well-established turf. Bloomberg didn’t sell a physical product, per se—the company’s terminals were leased out at a flat monthly rate—but the unique information those subscriptions provided was quickly becoming essential for any trader who didn’t want to lose a step on his rivals.
As his company continued to grow, Mike Bloomberg became worried that his competitors would smarten up and kneecap his ability to supply his customers with news. Bloomberg’s secret sauce might have been its analytics, but it also needed a constant stream of news—traders, after all, had to know what was happening around the globe. Without a wire service of his own, Bloomberg was forced to pay Dow Jones and Reuters for their news feeds. The day they realized what they stood to gain by cutting him off was the day his all-in-one business model would fall apart.
Left, the editor: Matthew Winkler, who conceived Bloomberg News and retains the title editor in chief.Right, the multi-media man: Andrew Lack, recently hired as Bloomberg’s chief executive officer for television, radio, and interactive operations.Photographs by Nigel Parry.
A little more than a year after Winkler’s Journal article ran, the reporter’s phone rang. “It’s Bloomberg,” the voice on the other end of the line announced. “I need some advice. What would it take to get into the news business?” The more Winkler thought about it, the more convinced he became that the answer was nothing more than a handful of warm bodies and a lot of hard work. Mike Bloomberg had been able to get a toehold in the financial-data business because the rest of the industry had been too complacent to look for ways to increase efficiency. Similarly, Reuters and Dow Jones’s effective 100-year duopoly had resulted in what Winkler says was a “journalistic
wasteland” as far as breaking stories was concerned. Within days, Winkler had begun to game out the possibilities. “What would it be like,” he wondered, “if the person who was depending on those economic figures to make a decision gets, at 8:30, precisely the moment when the numbers are released, a thousand words that is comparable to what he’s going to read in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal?” It wasn’t long before Winkler told Bloomberg that he was the man to put this plan into effect.
When Winkler told Pearlstine of his job offer, Pearlstine didn’t try to dissuade him. “There was a career path at the Journal,” Pearlstine says, “but it wasn’t a career path where I could say … ‘There’s no job you can’t aspire to.’” Besides, bond coverage “wasn’t that important for theJournal. And I didn’t know what a Bloomberg was.” Winkler gave notice. “I thought it was a sustainable hit for the Journal, frankly,” Pearlstine says.
When Winkler started at Bloomberg, he had little of substance with which to persuade his former colleagues to join him on what seemed like, at best, a valiantly quixotic effort. As a result, his early hires tended to be rookie reporters, and Winkler made abundantly clear that their futures at the company depended on an ironclad adherence to his edicts. This began with Winkler’s “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” approach to writing stories. At the time, the vast majority of Bloomberg News’s articles concerned calendar-driven events—earnings reports, quarterly statements, and the like. “It’s either going to be better than expectations or worse than expectations, or it’s going to be exactly what people [thought],” Winkler says. “We can get ready for all three scenarios” by writing three variations of the same story before the event occurs. That way, when it unfolded, “we [would] know, Oh, that’s Scenario B, or that’s Scenario C or Scenario A, and we have a story right away. So, the preparation part was key.”
That preparation translated into grueling hours and onerous strictures. Midnight phone calls from Winkler himself were not uncommon. Every morning, the staff conducted a postmortem in which it reviewed all of its competitors’ stories and then went through every instance in which Bloomberg’s had not come out on top. Staffers were forbidden to speak to the press. (To this day, it is company policy that interviews—even with the company’s chairman and president—are not to be done without a member of Bloomberg’s P.R. staff being present. Even sanctioned phone discussions I had with Bloomberg employees were conducted with a spokesperson on the line.) Winkler’s exacting approach was eventually codified in an often mocked companywide stylebook titled The Bloomberg Way. Bloomberg News stories, it declared, “have a structure that is as immutable as the rules that govern sonnets and symphonies.” Every story needed to include “the Five Fs”: first, fastest, factual, final, and future. Leads were to be exactly four paragraphs long, comprising the stating of a theme, a quotation in “plain English from someone who backs up that theme,” numbers-based details that further support it, and an explanation of what’s at stake. The use of “but” was banned—it forced readers “to deal with conflicting ideas in the same sentence.” Words such as “despite” and “however” were to be avoided for the same reason.
“You can’t be effective as a businessman, as a trader, unless you get the truth,” Winkler told me, explaining the importance of the system he had put in place. He pointed to his own years as a reporter as a way of demonstrating that he had never asked his staff “to do anything that I haven’t already done. I wouldn’t dare do that, because that wouldn’t be fair. [I told them] I know this can be done. We just have to figure out how we’re going to get it done here.” But expecting that level of
performance from his novice reporters meant Winkler was setting himself up to be disappointed. When that occurred, the results were ugly. His screaming jags soon became the stuff of legend. He’d erupt in the middle of meetings, on the phone, while editing a story. In 1993, Winkler lit into two Washington reporters who hadn’t returned a call from a colleague during a stretch in which they’d been working 15-hour days. His memo on the incident was titled “Proud to Be Stupid” and it labeled the offending parties “the antithesis of what this news organization stands for.” In the late 1990s, he pushed a reporter in the newsroom. (The reporter, who left the organization, was paid a settlement.) Perhaps most embarrassingly, late last year, an audio recording of one of Winkler’s tirades was posted on Gawker. In it, Winkler is heard screaming maniacally at a female editor.
editor: The enemy that day was … the computer.
editor: Didn’t he …
winkler: No. The enemy was not the computer.
editor: Didn’t he …
winkler: No! That’s wrong! No!
editor: Can I ask you something?
winkler: Excuse me! Excuse me! The enemy was not the computer! That’s why we’re having this meeting! I figured, I figured, a lot of you were going to think this way! It’s wrong! It’s not the computer! It’s not the computer! It’s the human!
Within minutes of the posting, former employees were trading e-mails. “That was a Category 2 Winkler hurricane,” one told me. “That was nothing. You should hear a Category 4.”
Throughout all of this, Bloomberg’s news division continued to grow. By 2000, Winkler was in charge of 1,200 employees. These were no longer all 22-year-olds in their first jobs in journalism. Time and again, editors told either Winkler or Bloomberg himself that Winkler’s behavior was unacceptable. Increasingly, high-level staffers quit rather than deal with the invective. None of this seemed to have any effect. “There’s a culture of verbal abuse and terror,” a mid-level editor told me a month before Pearlstine was hired, “and it all starts with Matt. You live in terror because you never know what’s going to set him off.” (This editor asked not to be identified—even by gender—and requested that all communication be over non-Bloomberg phone lines for fear that the company might have access to employees’ private e-mail accounts.) “He may well have an anger-management problem,” says a former employee who is now in public relations. “Once that switch goes off, he can’t moderate it. Matt is not sadistic—he is driven. From his point of view, he [could always] say, ‘Look at the results. We’ve created a news organization that does x, y, and z. We have growing revenue. We are what’s next. We are the future. So why should I let up?’”
Winkler’s simpatico relationship with Mike Bloomberg helps explain how Winkler escaped serious repercussions for so long. Their bond is perhaps best exemplified inBloomberg by Bloomberg, Mike Bloomberg’s 1997 quasi-autobiography, which Winkler wrote after taking notes as Bloomberg talked about his past. Part personal history, part management guide, the book’s 250 pages are filled with
half-baked aphorisms, many of which are punctuated with jarringly exuberant exclamation points. (“In life, unlike in children’s games, second place is first loser!” “Think about the percentage of your life spent working and commuting. If you’re not content doing it, you’re probably a pretty miserable person. Change it!”)
Even more striking is the manner in which the book frames the company’s relationship to the outside world: “When someone departs, those of us who stay are hurt.… We’re trying to feed our families, and his or her leaving makes that task more difficult. Him or her, or my kids? That’s an easy choice!” Later, Bloomberg/Winkler writes, “The Bloomberg philosophy may sound strange to ‘outsiders,’ but not to those who matter—us. We’ve always assumed that even if we’re paranoid, they probably are out to get us. While you’re reading this, we’re thinking about how our competitors are plotting to take the food from our children’s mouths.” If employees left to work for a competitor, “they’ve become bad people. Period. We have a loyalty to us. Leave, and you’re them.” There was even a policy against rehiring anyone who quit for anything other than family reasons: “How could we ever again look in the eye the one who stayed if we let the ‘traitor’ come back?”
Left, the president: Dan Doctoroff. “The economics are incredibly compelling.” Right, the chairman: Peter Grauer. “Write one shitty, Jayson Blair–type story and you’re screwed.” Photographs by Nigel Parry.
Late last year, Mike Bloomberg announced what everyone had long surmised: that he wasn’t going to return to active management of the company he had founded. Soon afterward, Bloomberg L.P. named Dan Doctoroff the company’s new president. Doctoroff is a trim, affable man, who, despite the retreat of his graying curls, seems younger than his 50 years. He grew up outside of Detroit and went to Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School, and made his fortune running the
private-equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners. In 1998 he founded NYC2012 in an effort to bring the Olympic Games to New York. Three years later, Bloomberg hired Doctoroff as New York City’s deputy mayor for economic development. (Mike Bloomberg insists he has had very little involvement with the day-to-day operations of Bloomberg L.P. since he was elected mayor in 2001. News accounts have at times painted a different picture. Bloomberg has acknowledged that he did play a role in Doctoroff’s hiring.)
Unlike Winkler, or Pearlstine for that matter, Doctoroff doesn’t get excited discussing the nuts and bolts of a felicitous lead. What he does get excited about is discussing how Winkler created a whole new business model for news. “Matt’s unique achievement,” Doctoroff says, “is really to recognize the symbiotic relationship between news and the rest of [Bloomberg L.P.’s] business”—essentially to think of a journalistic organization as a capitalistic one. “He has been absolutely brilliant at conceptualizing that.”
As an example, Doctoroff tells of a recent meeting he had with a senior manager at a large investment bank in London. Bloomberg, the banker said, was seriously lagging in commodities coverage. It was Winkler who followed up on the conversation, and after hearing exactly what it was that commodities traders were looking for, he went out and hired 32 new reporters and editors. Adding that amount of staff comes at considerable expense, but the result, according to Doctoroff, was several thousand new customers, each of whom now pays between $1,500 and $1,800 a month for his terminal subscription. As Doctoroff puts it, “The economics are incredibly compelling.”
The company’s specialized relationships with individual newspapers also fit into this journalism-as-capitalism approach. “Because we’re not burdened by [the] old, broken business models that almost every other news organization is,” he says, Bloomberg News can cover regional core industries and sell that content for a price that’s significantly less than what newspapers would need to pay their own staffs to do the same thing. “I don’t need to make money off of that operation,” Doctoroff says. “If I take the money and invest it in additional reporters … I just provided much greater value to my terminal customers,” because, presumably, more local biotech stories will make a Bloomberg terminal subscription that much more appealing to a customer in, say, Boston. “Everybody wins. That’s the kind of opportunity that we uniquely have. And it doesn’t have to just be true for business or financial news either.”
Or just for print. Doctoroff readily admits that Bloomberg’s multi-media operations have “underperformed” as a result of a laserlike focus on producing content for terminal customers. That, too, is changing—as best evidenced by the arrival of Andrew Lack. “We believe we should be the best at everything we decide to do,” Doctoroff says. “I’d be lying if I told you, either on the Internet or on TV, that’s where we are today.” Lack, who came to Bloomberg after a rocky stint at Sony-BMG Music, said in a conversation less than two hours after his hiring was announced that he’ll be “making some bets and putting some ideas on the board,” which is the sound-bite version of “Watch this space.” For the moment, the specifics of those bets were less important to Lack than what Bloomberg represents for the future. “In this particular environment, to hear words like growth, change, expansion—those are words you don’t hear a lot in news organizations these days,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound harsh. But there are declining audiences in newspapers and declining audiences in broadcast platforms and in some cases in cable platforms. There are fewer resources to do the job. But here, this is an organization that has 140 bureaus around the world. There are two-
thousand-something employees.” He sounded just as surprised as Pearlstine had been four months earlier.
In the six years since Peter Grauer was named chairman of Bloomberg L.P., the most idiosyncratic excesses of the company’s culture have been steadily toned down. That trend has accelerated dramatically since Doctoroff came on board. The notorious White House Correspondents’ Dinner after-parties, which in years past attracted the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Chloë Sevigny and featured ice-luge vodka shots, heaps of caviar, sushi bars, and sundae stations, are now staid to the point of being boring. Over the summer, Lex Fenwick, the most flamboyant of Bloomberg’s Old Guard, stepped down as C.E.O. to “pursue new business opportunities” through an offshoot called Bloomberg Ventures. Fenwick is known for purple suits and his insistence that the back of Bloomberg business cards be bright orange. In 2003 he installed a boxing ring, complete with scoreboard and hanging mike, in Bloomberg’s London sales office as a way of spurring his salespeople’s competitive juices when they cold-called prospective clients. He’s also at the center of a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company discriminated against pregnant employees, and is accused in court papers of ordering the firing of two employees by saying, “I’m not having any pregnant bitches working for me.” The company has said that the suit, which is expected to go to trial next year, “sounds like an effort to damage reputations and … pressure the company for financial gain.”
Recently, even the relentless demands the company puts on its employees have been eased. Last August, Bloomberg L.P. began allowing employees to request flextime, shorter workweeks, and the ability to work from home. This is a radical shift from the ethos laid out in Bloomberg by Bloomberg, which holds that “you’ve got to come in early, stay late, lunch at your desk, take projects home nights and weekends. The time you put in is the single most important controllable variable determining your future.” The rigid stylistic restrictions have been loosened, and the daily postmortems have been done away with as well.
These changes are partly, Grauer says, the result of dealing with “issues associated with being a big, growing, visible, important news source,” and he insists that a softening of the culture does not mean a softening of standards. “The keepers of our reputation are all the people who work for us around the world,” he says. “Write one shitty, Jayson Blair–type story and you’re screwed.”
Michael Bloomberg answers the Proust Questionnaire.Illlustration by Risko.
To be sure, there have not been any Jayson Blair–type fiascoes. Still, not long after my conversation with Grauer—and in the very period during which Winkler’s day-to-day responsibilities were being
pared back—Bloomberg News did make a number of embarrassing, high-profile errors. In late August, it ran an obituary for Apple Inc. C.E.O. and pancreatic-cancer survivor Steve Jobs, a misstep that mercifully occurred after trading had closed for the day and was corrected in short order. Ten days later, United Airlines was not so lucky: the company lost more than $1 billion in value when Bloomberg sent out a news alert based on a five-year-old article that had been erroneously posted on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Web site claiming that the airline was filing for bankruptcy. (Share prices recovered somewhat after the report was retracted.) In between those two blunders was another false dispatch, this one claiming that Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin had once been arrested for drunken driving. It’s possible that all of those mistakes would have occurred if Winkler were still Bloomberg News’s all-powerful majordomo. But there’s no way some heads wouldn’t have rolled.
If Bloomberg News really has found a new paradigm for journalistic success and solvency, it only heightens the pathos of the situation in which Winkler finds himself. There seems, in retrospect, something almost wistful about our conversation last spring. “Everything I learned as a journalist I learned in the decade that I was at The Wall Street Journal,” he told me. “Mostly working for Norm.” Now that he and Pearlstine were working together again, he said, “it feels great. It always felt great; it feels even better now. It feels better because I know so much more than I did then, and, actually, I can appreciate a lot of the things instinctively that, perhaps, he was trying to do.” There were times when Winkler seemed impatient with or annoyed by my questions, but as soon as he began talking about Pearlstine, his whole demeanor changed. He sat forward in his chair. His gestures grew more expansive.
“Even if everything was exactly like it was then, only carried forward, you know, 30 years, I’d still think it would be terrific I was just one of those guys happily toiling on his behalf. It was a thrill. And I’d do it again if I was asked to.”
Seth Mnookin is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.
From AJR, March & april 2011
The Bloomberg Juggernaut
While many news organizations are struggling and retreating, Bloomberg News keeps adding talented journalists, expanding its empire and elevating its ambitions. Posted: Tue, March 1, 2011
By Jodi Enda
Senior contributing writer Jodi Enda ([email protected]) writes about the media, politics and government from Washington, D.C. She previously covered the White House, presidential campaigns and Congress for Knight Ridder and was a national correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Enda has written about coverage of foreign news and of federal departments and agencies in recent issues of AJR.
At Bloomberg News, extraneous words are discouraged. Copy is straightforward, without language that hedges, such as "but," "however" or "despite." Adjectives are shunned. Adverbs, too. The edict is to get to the point.
The company's driving goal is equally forthright. Stunning both for its simplicity and its downright audacity, it is repeated -- frequently and almost word for word -- by top editors and reporters alike: "We want to be the world's most influential news organization."
At a time when most news organizations are hemorrhaging money and staff, closing bureaus, reducing coverage and lowering expectations,Bloomberg is spending, hiring, opening new outposts, launching fresh enterprises and raising the stakes. It's as if someone forgot to tell the honchos in Bloomberg's eye-popping New York enclave -- a futuristic glass palace replete with fresh orchids, exotic fish, free food, custom artwork, even a curved escalator -- that the journalism world is in the midst of financial turmoil. Odd for an organization built around and financed by its ability to provide information to the world's most powerful investors, an organization that prides itself on moving markets and that rewards its reporters for doing so.
Then again, Bloomberg News is nothing if not odd, not odd-peculiar (though there is a bit of that) so much as odd-different, odd-singular, odd-completely-out-of-the-ordinary. At every turn, it has defied expectations.
Consider that it was founded as a way to provide context to the data on "The Bloomberg," an innovative terminal devised to provide investors with essential, reliable, up to the minute information that would help them make money. Consider that the terminal was conceived by a Harvard MBA who had just been fired from his job as a partner in a Wall Street firm. Consider that a news operation that began just 21 years ago with a young, market-savvy editor and a handful of relatively inexperienced reporters has mushroomed into a behemoth that employs 2,300 journalists in 146 bureaus and 72 countries. Consider that their work now feeds not only the terminal -- which remains the center of the Bloomberg universe -- but also two free Web sites, three subscription-only Web sites, a weekly magazine, a monthly magazine, a global television network, a U.S. radio station,
a wire service, subscription-only news-letters and a syndicate that provides news to 420 publications in more than 60 countries.
Consider that Bloomberg, far from contracting like so many media outlets, continues to embark on new ventures, including Bloomberg Government, a Web site aimed at Washington policymakers, politicians and lobbyists; Bloomberg Law, a site for lawyers; and Bloomberg View, a foray into the world of opinion writing. And that it is expanding its coverage of the world's wealthiest people. And opening new bureaus in statehouses and big cities around the country in an effort to capitalize on the rapid withdrawal of newspapers from those meaty beats.
And consider that the fired Wall Street partner, Michael Bloomberg, now is in his third term as mayor of New York City; that he is reported by Forbes magazine to be worth $18 billion, making him the 10th wealthiest person in America and the richest politician, and that, as a result of his financial success, he reduced his city paycheck to just $1 a year and often rides the subway to work.
The unusual nature of Bloomberg L.P. doesn't end there: The man at the helm of the news outfit, Matthew Winkler, sports bow ties, reveres Dr. Seuss and occasionally displays a temper that has become fodder for a ravenous blogosphere; neither he nor the president nor anyone else in the hierarchy has an office; walls in the Lexington Avenue headquarters -- with the welcome exception of those in and surrounding the bathrooms -- are made of clear or colored glass; employees can be tracked by a plethora of cameras, identification scanners, fingerprint devices and computer keyboards (though no one will say if they are). Every summer, Bloomberg L.P., the umbrella company for the terminal and news operations, takes over Randall's Island in New York's East River for a blowout picnic complete with carousels and Ferris wheels, miniature golf, sushi, barbecue, palm readers, clowns and tiki bars, and in the winter it encourages employees to take a few hours off work to do community service.
It's all mind-bogglingly Bloombergian (an unacceptable Bloomberg sentence, to be sure).
Oh, they have their own language, these Bloombergians do. They follow "The Bloomberg Way," a 361-page set of directives that lays down Bloomberg News principles and strictures, from the requisite accuracy and fairness to writing standards to ethics rules.
Leads are to be four paragraphs long.
Headlines are to be written first.
"Show" with facts and anecdotes, "don't tell" with characterizations and labels.
Mistakes must be corrected, pronto. Proper credit must be given to competitors.
Bloomberg News is defined by what Winkler, the editor-in-chief, has deemed the "Five Fs": factual word, first word, fastest word, final word and future word. It produces news for the people "who have the most at stake," primarily the 300,000 big-money players who pay $20,000 a year for "The Bloomberg." To speak to these affluent and highly educated stakeholders, every story must include something on the relationship between markets, the economy, government, politics and companies
-- the "Five Easy Pieces."
At once bizarre and rigid, Bloomberg News is easy to poke fun at, and plenty of journalists inside and outside its transparent walls do.
But there's at least one factor that sets Bloomberg News apart from the pack, something no one in the business is laughing at:
It's hiring! Journalists!! And paying them very well!!!
Unbound by the financial constraints that have hobbled or killed media organizations nationwide and armed with reporters and editors who emigrated from many of the best newsrooms in the world, Bloomberg is doing one more thing of note:
It is producing lots of first-rate journalism.
A little time spent in Bloomberg's New York and Washington offices helps to explain the mindset of the people who work there.
In some ways, they are much like the best newsrooms used to be (and sometimes still are): bustling, lively, exciting places where scoops are celebrated, teamwork is essential and desks are peopled with reporters and editors who share a mission to be the best. In other ways, they are different from any newsroom I've worked in or visited. Nothing about these places is subtle. There are a lot of bells and whistles -- oversized, in your face artwork, such as a giant titanium thundercloud that hangs between two floors; dazzling fish swimming in imposing tanks; and large, multicolored light boards flashing news, weather and financial updates from around the world.
But the physical is merely a manifestation of the psychological. From Winkler on down, the journalists at Bloomberg work hard, think big and dream bigger. They are unfettered by financial restrictions. They practically gloat about their ability to travel the world, spending time and treasure to pursue good stories.
And that thing about becoming the most influential news outlet in the world? They truly do embrace it.
"That ambition really appeals to me," says Jonathan Kaufman, a team leader in charge of education coverage. "It's hard to find a place with as much ambition, and they back it up with resources."
Kaufman joined Bloomberg in 2009, part of a migration of reporters and editors from the Wall Street Journal. In fact, one of the striking things about Bloomberg's roster is the vast array of journalists who formerly worked not only at the Journal but at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune, to name just a handful. And Kaufman is one of several with "Pulitzer Prize winner" in his bio.
When Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek in late 2009 and hired Josh Tyrangiel to be its editor, the New York Times wrote that he had been "an heir apparent at Time magazine." Tyrangiel, formerly deputy managing editor at the newsweekly, waves off the description. But he does say he switched
magazines because Bloomberg offered "an opportunity to be very aggressive and grow" whereas Time was "rightfully happy with where they were."
"The hunger and competitiveness at Bloomberg are really attractive to me," Tyrangiel tells me in a phone interview from Davos, Switzerland, where he is at the World Economic Forum. "I don't just wake up in the morning thinking I want to do a great job. I want to win! This is a company where that is baked into the DNA."
Even the few people I talk to who haven't entirely bought into "The Bloomberg Way" say they are excited about the future there. They like the energy of the place. They like the direction in which it's moving. They might disdain some of the internal machinations of Bloomberg News -- the nonstop demands, the lack of flexibility, the paranoia they say emanates from on high -- but they appreciate the sense of possibility even more.
"There is nothing but a genuine and impressively driven desire for great stories. That's what they promised when they hired me, and I haven't seen anything else," says one reporter, who asks not to be identified by name, job or location because he has not been granted permission to talk to me. "There is a zeal to get great stories."
The buzz about Bloomberg News has grown considerably over the years, and not merely because it is one of the few media outlets that continued hiring during the recession. Once viewed as something of an afterthought by job-seeking journalists, it has gained a level of respectability in the eyes of journalists and newsmakers alike. Many Bloomberg editors remind me that when Winkler started to build the operation in 1990, the Standing Committee of Correspondents that oversees the Senate Press Gallery refused to give his reporters the credentials they needed to gain access to Congress. Bloomberg reporter Jim Rowley now holds a coveted seat on that committee.
As an indication of how quickly the landscape has shifted, Al Hunt, Bloomberg's executive editor for Washington, tells me, "I couldn't get the Bush White House to return calls. We have had three one-on-ones with President Obama¬. The change is dramatic."
Hunt recalls with a chuckle that after he left the Wall Street Journal for Bloomberg in December 2004, he'd run into acquaintances on the street and they would almost uniformly "look at their shoes and ask me what happened," as if they were embarrassed on his behalf. Now, he says, many of those same people are calling, either in search of jobs or to pitch stories.
Hunt, a fixture in Washington journalism and political circles, seems to be just as taken with the Bloomberg goals as his younger colleagues. "I've never seen a more ambitious place," he says. "Every day pulsates with ambition. Maybe that's the Journal circa the 1980s." He smiles broadly.
Bloomberg's Washington news bureau boasts an editorial staff of 265 -- with 30 more on the way this year, says Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer for Bloomberg L.P. and chairman of Bloomberg Businessweek. Like Hunt, Pearlstine, formerly managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and editor in chief of Time Inc., compares the trajectory of Bloomberg News to that of the Journal decades earlier. Listen to him talk about the response to his announcement that he had accepted a job at the Journal in 1968.
"When I told my friends at the New York Times that I was quitting my job as a copy boy to go to Dallas to work for the Wall Street Journal, they said, 'Why would you want to do that? Who reads the Journal?' "
Similarly, Pearlstine remembers a conversation in 1989, when Winkler left the Journal to create a news report that would not appear in a newspaper, but on an electronic terminal read by a small, elite group of investors. (In those days, it was unimaginable that the "printed" word would not actually appear in print.)
"When he went off to start the news service, I said to him, 'Who would want to work for Bloomberg News?' " Pearlstine says.
"It turns out we all do."
Ed Chen left. Lots of people have.
Formerly a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Chen was working in the Washington press office of the Natural Resources Defense Council when Hunt called him in December 2006. He wanted Chen to return to journalism to cover what was shaping up to be a historic presidential race (at that point, Hillary Clinton was considered the Democratic front-runner).
The campaign was not the only draw for Chen. He wanted to make a little history of his own by becoming the first minority elected to be president of the White House Correspondents' Association, a position that proffers a certain amount of national visibility and prestige. So he took a seat in the bureau at 14th Street and New York Avenue, a few blocks from the White House, and learned to do things "The Bloomberg Way."
Chen praises Bloomberg editors and reporters as some of the best in journalism, but says he felt most of his own stories were "superficial and uninteresting and unchallenging" because the system places such a great premium on being first. "The editors have to explain why their stories were tardier than AP or [Thomson] Reuters. There is great, great pressure," he says. It's a complaint I have heard from others.
To illustrate his point, Chen tells me about a shortcut he used to get out one story as quickly as possible. "Once I was in the back of Air Force One, on the ground, in the evening¡¬. Obama came back to the press cabin, which was very, very rare. Rather than taking notes and having him on my tape recorder, I pulled out my cell phone, speed dialed the hotline on my desk in Washington and held the cell phone up to Obama's chin -- and my editors listened and filed the story that way."
Chen doesn't blame Bloomberg so much as the 24/7 media culture that requires many White House correspondents (and other reporters) at newspapers and magazines not only to write stories for print but to produce and constantly update stories for the Web, to blog and to tweet. Yet he clearly didn't cotton to the demanding Bloomberg culture, including what he describes as "a lot of yelling" (though he makes clear that's not why he left).
"It is a very hardworking place. I felt -- and I think most people there felt -- like basically the company owns you. When something happens, there's no question that you'll be there, sometimes even when you're on vacation."
Bloomberg is known for providing free food from snack bars loaded with cereal, soup, bagels, chips, fruit, candy, nuts, soft drinks and all kinds of coffee drinks. It's a nice perk (one that causes more than a few new employees to put on what is known as the "Bloomberg 10," as in pounds), and, Chen says, "a great gathering spot for synergy, collaboration and serendipity." But, he adds, it's also a way to keep staffers close at hand, working.
After three-and-a-half years, Chen left in late June, just as he finished his term as White House Correspondents' Association president. He returned to his job as federal communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Oh, and about that gambit Chen used to file a story from Air Force One? It worked. Bloomberg, Chen notes, posted the story first.
The desks in Bloomberg newsrooms stand out because they are the only things that are, well, nothing special. They are not big or flashy, but plain, white and modular. They are pressed together, side by side, in long rows of five, often facing each other. Atop each desk sit four and sometimes six flat computer screens, some stacked two high, which allow the users to view "The Bloomberg," some Web sites and their own work simultaneously. Some desks also have small television screens; some have family photos or other mementos, such as a small Chick-fil-A cow that bears the message, "Eat Mor Chikin."
The journalists who work there have no privacy.
Matt Winkler is no exception. Like everyone else in Bloomberg L.P. -- in fact, like the mayor himself downtown in City Hall -- Winkler works in a sprawling room with scores of other people. If he or any other worker wants to have a private conversation, he must book one of the many glassed-in conference rooms scattered throughout the building. Each conference room is named for a city that contains Bloomberg terminals.
Winkler invites me into a small room near his work space. He sits in a black leather armchair backed by an orange glass wall and pulls a mobile keyboard into position. The Osaka Room, as it is called, is smaller than most of the conference rooms; it contains only a few other chairs, a loveseat and a large screen on the wall opposite Winkler.
We start by discussing the architecture of the U-shaped building, which takes up one square block of prime Manhattan real estate across the street from Bloomingdale's flagship 59th Street store and a few blocks from the 59th Street Bridge (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Winkler likes the glass edifice and inner walls because they allow in an unusual amount of light.
"When you think about it, what you want in news organizations is light," he says. "You get a sense of transparency right away."
That's a big mantra among Bloombergians: transparency. They fight for it in the markets and in government. They sued the Federal Reserve for it. Nonetheless, they have traditionally been reluctant to talk about themselves. That seems to be changing, but not without a certain amount of apprehension.
Winkler often is caricatured in the press as a temperamental autocrat who runs a global sweatshop and straps journalists with golden handcuffs -- unusually high salaries and bonuses that make it hard to leave. Clearly, this is not the image the leader of a world-class organization wishes to have.
Nor is it the one he projects in our interview.
He is affable, charming, a tad self-effacing. He grins when I ask him why he wears bow ties, saying that no one has ever posed the question, then describes how he switched to them while reporting in London for the Wall Street Journal in the 1980s. Winkler, on this day sporting a blue bow tie with small red dots, says he found himself frequently dining with bankers and, well, spilling. By jettisoning long ties, he saved on dry cleaning.
He is proud of what he has built, of the many reporters and editors he has lured from prestigious newspapers and magazines. He is proud of the investigative reporting they have done. He is proud of the recognition they now get in the greater world of journalism, in the corridors of power in New York and Washington and among captains of industry and government around the world.
He talks a lot about "the people with the most at stake," the people at the heart of Bloomberg's mission. Mike Bloomberg created "The Bloomberg" to serve them some 30 years ago by providing timely information on the relative value of bonds. A decade later, he hired Winkler to set up a news operation that would give them added value by putting the data and analytics in context. Now, with thousands of employees and with revenue that neared $7 billion last year, the organization operates with the same core mission, Winkler says. Only the scope has changed.
"The people with the most at stake are demanding from us relative value about everything," he says. They devour not only financial news and data, but reports on health and science, politics and government, culture and even sports. Winkler reminds me that sports metaphors are ubiquitous in the world of business, where competition is intense.
"I'm a tennis enthusiast," he says. "If I wanted to know how Rafael Nadal did, I can go to the Bloomberg."
Which is exactly what Winkler does. He pulls the keyboard toward him and types in the name of the Spanish athlete. On the large screen above us appears news that, on this day, January 20, Nadal defeated American Ryan Sweeting in the Australian Open.
"We try to cover what our customers want," Winkler says. "And that's hard because they want pretty much everything."
Even when Bloomberg reporters cover sports, culture and other seemingly non-business topics, they don't stray far from business and finance, the primary (and fiduciary) interests of the "people with the most at stake." So the sports story in the monthly Bloomberg Markets magazine is about three former players for the San Francisco 49ers who formed a venture capital firm. "Our reporter deconstructed what turned out to be a monumental failure as a business," Winkler says.
The same is true within the burgeoning Washington bureau. "Government is, in one sense, an enormous, sprawling business," Winkler says. "The government has income, revenues, and leaves an enormous footprint on the economy."
Most Washington reporters cover politics as sport, "winners and losers, whether they're campaigning or legislating," he continues. "What is obscured by that is the impact of policymaking on markets, business, consumers."
And that's what Bloomberg is all about, really. Impact. Over and over during my time in company offices in New York and Washington, I hear talk of moving markets, of giving important people important information that they can use to make important -- and high-stakes -- decisions. Bloomberg News, Winkler bragged in a phone conversation before our face-to-face meeting, was the first engine that provided that information to customers in real time, starting, as it did, "four years before Netscape introduced the Internet to the world as we know it. Bloomberg, in its infancy in 1990, was already, for its customers, the Internet. It was providing in a real-time context all sorts of what-if scenarios that people who had the most at stake could act on."
Laurie Hays, who left her job as deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal to edit news about companies for Bloomberg, pulls up a keyboard on a conference room table to show me what happens when stories move the market. At 3:30 p.m. on this particular day, Bloomberg broke a story about a board shake-up at Hewlett-Packard. Within minutes, the graph on the flat screen indicates, the price of a share of HP stock shot up by about 59 cents. By day's end, it had moved from $46.32 to $46.78, reversing an earlier decline. Market-moving stories tend to appear on the Bloomberg terminal first, with some lag time before they're placed on a free Web site.
On February 1, stock in Borders Group Inc. tumbled 48 percent after Bloomberg reported that the bookstore company was preparing to file for bankruptcy.
"If you're a Bloomberg customer, you make a lot of money off our exclusive news," Hays tells me.
Because big people are making big decisions based on what Bloomberg tells them, Winkler has imposed particularly rigorous standards on his journalists. All reporters at all news outlets are supposed to get things right. Here, "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy" is a maxim. Mistakes cost customers money. One longtime reporter told me that failing to write a correction is a firing offense. "The Bloomberg Way," written by Winkler, says: "Every time we publish a mistake, we chip away at our credibility. That, in turn, can make it difficult to obtain the most credible sources and attract customers.
"While mistakes are inevitable, failure to correct the error¡¬.compromises our integrity."
It also costs Bloomberg's customers money, which, in turn, would cost Bloomberg L.P. money if people stopped subscribing to "The Bloomberg." That hasn't happened. Except for a small blip during the recession, when many of its customers lost their jobs (think Lehman Brothers), Bloomberg has shown a steady increase in subscribers. And revenue continued to climb even then, the company reports.
The high stakes and his own high ideals have caused Winkler to keep a tight hold on the news operation these two decades. He sets the standards, he sets the tone.
Sometimes, say people who work there, the tone is unpleasant, alarmingly so.
The Web site Gawker has made a habit of reporting on Winkler, whom it has described as "a bow-tied tyrant," "¨¹ber-strict" and "one of the angriest men in media." In 2008, the site posted a recording of Winkler, who was said to be yelling at a staffer who challenged his decision to fire a broadcast reporter for posting a financial headline too early.
I ask Winkler about his temper. He handles the query with aplomb -- and a certain amount of indirection.
"I don't believe anger is an effective way to manage," he says calmly. "I think you accomplish a lot more by figuring out how to inspire people¡¬. I like to think that the history of Bloomberg News to date shows that it's been an inspirational place.
"We're constantly changing -- here's hoping, for the better, me included."
There is no question that Bloomberg is changing. It is growing incessantly, just as so many other media outlets are contracting. Numbers tell part of the story: In 2008, Bloomberg employed 1,950 journalists. Now, it has 2,300, and plans to hire another 150 this year, says spokesman Ty Trippet.
Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek from McGraw-Hill in late 2009. That year, the magazine lost $60 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. But to Bloomberg, its value was immeasurable.
Daniel Doctoroff, president of Bloomberg L.P., explains that Bloomberg needed to broaden its audience beyond the narrow core of terminal subscribers. BusinessWeek brought in 4.6 million readers.
Bloomberg's cachet shot up, he says.
"Literally, the week after we bought BusinessWeek, we had CEOs who wouldn't give us an exclusive interview reaching out to us, not just in the United States, but around the world."
Likewise, Bloomberg has been augmenting its television and multimedia operations. In October 2008, the company hired Andrew R. Lack, a onetime NBC News president and former chairman of Sony Music, to lead the effort. When I talk to Lack, he has just returned from India, where he is working to make Bloomberg News more accessible on television and other platforms. That, essentially, is what he is doing around the world. Bloomberg TV, which is broadcast to 245 million homes worldwide, is the "most watched global English-language channel in Europe during the business day," Lack says. He adds that the next target is Asia.
One of the most notable changes that has occurred under Lack's leadership concerns Charlie Rose, the well-known TV interviewer whose program has long aired on PBS. In the fall of 2009, Bloomberg TV began rebroadcasting the show, which is taped in its studios in New York and Washington. "The arrangement marks one of Bloomberg's boldest steps yet to refashion its programming to better compete with CNBC and other channels," the New York Times reported at the time. During the recent uprising in Egypt, Bloomberg TV blanketed the airwaves with coverage from Cairo. And Charlie Rose was there.
Bloomberg's most recent venture, launched January 1, is Bloomberg Government. Subscribers pay $5,700 a year for access to bgov.com, home to an intimidating amount of information on
government, politics and policy. The site focuses on six industries -- health care, defense, energy, technology, finance and transportation -- as well as trade, taxation and labor.
It posts original news stories by Bloomberg journalists and white papers written by experts hired onto the staff to assess the effect of government actions on the economy and corporate America. It tracks legislation and government contracting, displays government and corporate directories, reports how much money corporations contribute to politicians and which lawmakers benefit from specific industries. It allows users to find Congress members and staffers who are working on various issues. It includes detailed maps overlaying congressional districts with industries, demographics and the disbursement of government grants. You can pinpoint specific types of businesses to determine which Congress members have them in their districts. You can find out how a particular corporation responded to the State of the Union address.
The site is so comprehensive that Bloomberg provides training sessions to subscribers -- no matter where they are located.
"Our driving mission: What's the business impact of government action?" says Mike Riley, managing editor of Bloomberg Government and former editor of Congressional Quarterly. "Nobody's doing that the way we're doing that."
Bloomberg editors would not disclose how many people have subscribed to BGov so far, except to say that the number is in the thousands. Riley did say he has hired more than 100 journalists and analysts, and expects that number to grow to 150 by the end of the year. An equal number work to build, maintain and sell the Web site and to help customers navigate it.
The mission, says BGov reporter Alex Wayne, is clear and consistent with that of the rest of Bloomberg: "They say they want to beat everybody and they want to own the market for policy news and analysis," he says. "I like working for a company that has a killer instinct."
The next new venture will be Bloomberg View, the company's first stab at editorial writing. In December, Winkler hired two marquee names to run it: David Shipley, who had been deputy editorial page editor and op-ed editor of the New York Times, and former Assistant Secretary of State James P. Rubin.
Until now, Bloomberg News has distributed columns and op-eds, but no actual editorials representing the thoughts of an editorial board, nothing that reflects the Bloomberg position on issues. Why change? "We have an aspiration to be most influential, and we're conspicuous by the absence of any point of view," Winkler says.
In a late-January telephone interview on his third day on the job, Shipley tells me that he and Rubin have yet to iron out most of the details of Bloomberg View, such as how often and where editorials will run and who will write them. Both he and Winkler say the editorials will not be driven by ideology.
Shipley says he envisions a situation "whereby you really search for the best ideas from the left and the right, being solution-oriented and" -- like Bloomberg itself -- "being data driven."
"My hope," he says, "is that we're going to be just searching out the ideas and the politics that make the most sense and do the most to repair the world. But since we are creating a new form here or doing something that hasn't been done in this institution, we are remarkably unburdened in having to think in [terms of] left and right."
The announcement of the new undertaking was met with some skepticism in the broader media world because of the potential conflicts it raises between Bloomberg the journalism operation and Bloomberg the mayor (and possible presidential candidate), who owns a majority of the company. Indeed, when I ask Winkler about that, he says, "We don't want to write about ourselves" because it would be "an obvious conflict, real or imagined."
Bloomberg does cover the mayor as a news story. Henry Goldman, who works in a temporary press room in a trailer on the grounds of City Hall, tells me there are risks in covering his boss -- and in not covering him. "The question becomes how do you do it fairly and comprehensively."
Here, he says, "The Bloomberg Way" is helpful: "The Bloomberg style of avoiding adjectives, value-laden observations and insisting upon opposing points of view institutionalizes fairness in one's copy." Basically, Goldman says, he doesn't see himself as writing stories that are positive or negative about the mayor. He simply writes what Bloomberg does.
Shipley says of the potential conflict: "I think I would be an idiot not to be aware of it¡¬.as is everyone here, as is the mayor. I don't think anyone would do anything that disrupts the sanctity of anyone's job and the understanding of the mayor's relationship with this institution."
They call it the virtuous circle.
A virtuous circle, or virtuous cycle, is a beneficial series of events, each of which positively affects the next. Bloombergians view each piece of their enterprise as part of the virtuous circle.
Doctoroff, the president of Bloomberg L.P., elaborates: "The more readers and viewers of Bloomberg News we have, particularly among corporate executives and government officials who make business news, the more influence we have. The more influence we have, the more access we have to them. The more access we have, the more market-moving information we have. That helps us sell more Bloomberg terminals. The more we sell, the more we invest back into our news organization, creating this wonderful virtuous cycle that is unlike anyone else in any other news organization."
Bloomberg Businessweek (now without the capital "w") bolsters the virtuous circle. Its losses were halved in just one year and the magazine is expected to, eventually, turn a profit. Bloomberg TV and radio also expand the new audience. So does Bloomberg.com, which had 20 million unique visitors in December 2010, 43 percent more than February 2009.
All of these, along with new undertakings, are intended to make the terminal a more valuable commodity. In other words, they help to bring in money.
Herein lies a critical difference between Bloomberg and other media outlets.
A full 85 percent of the company's revenue comes from terminal subscriptions, 300,000 of them at about $1,667 a month. Less than half of the remaining 15 percent comes from news media
operations, including advertising revenue and syndication. The financial imbalance explains both the supremacy of "The Bloomberg" and the company's ability to funnel so much money into journalism:
It does not rely heavily on advertising.
Nevertheless, Bloomberg executives have decided the news outlets should be able to stand on their own. Doctoroff, formerly New York's deputy mayor for economic development, has initiated "Plan B," a path to profitability for every piece of the Bloomberg puzzle.
Still, it is likely that the big money, the money that keeps that virtuous circle turning, will come from the thing that started it all: "The Bloomberg."
Journalists who are not part of Bloomberg aren't quite sure what to make of it. When I ask Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, to assess the impact of Bloomberg News, he responds: "The impact is they're making a lot of money." He says he can't speak to the company's journalism because he doesn't have a terminal.
"There were a lot of people saying if mainstream news-papers are pulling out of journalism, there's opportunity there," Rosenstiel says. "But Bloomberg had the resources to take advantage of it."
There are a lot of perks to working at Bloomberg. First, there's the constant access to free food and drinks, including healthy stuff like organic Cajun popcorn, fresh-ground organic peanut butter and hormone-free milk. (It's also environmentally conscious: The New York headquarters provides potato-based cutlery and cornstarch straws that, along with the plates and cups, go into compost bins.) Then there's that picnic and, in the winter, admission to the Big Apple Circus. Because the company contributes to the arts, employees enjoy free admission to New York's pricey museums. Once, a reporter told me, Bloomberg rented an entire theater at Lincoln Center and treated the staff to a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet.
And, of course, there's the money, legendary in journalism circles. No one would disclose his or her salary to me, but one former newspaper reporter told me his income rose about 25 percent when he went to Bloomberg. Staffers also receive annual bonuses and profit-sharing certificates, based in part on individual and group performance -- including scoops, market-moving stories and, on the flip side, corrections -- and in part on company revenue.
"We demand a hell of a lot from people. We want them to perform," says Chief of Staff Reto Gregori. "And if you want people to perform, you have to pay them accordingly."
The really big payoff -- the kind that is unheard of in an industry rife with layoffs, buyouts and furloughs -- could come in 2014. If the company meets its goal of $10 billion in revenue, each employee who has been at Bloomberg since the beginning of 2009 will receive a bonus of between 62-and-a-half percent and 70 percent of his or her salary, Doctoroff says.
Golden handcuffs? It depends upon whom you ask.
Although the stereotype is that Bloomberg News is a sweatshop, plenty of people -- reporters and editors who have been authorized to talk to me and those who have not -- tell me otherwise. Yes, they work hard, these journalists say. They are on the front lines from early morning -- many editors
begin the day with a 7:30 a.m. meeting -- until night. But, these days, so do journalists at every newspaper, magazine and Web site.
And, yes, many of them have to write fast, short stories, the kind that Ed Chen grew weary of. Their counterparts at other outlets have to do that, too.
But because they have so many platforms, including Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg Markets, a monthly magazine, as well as the Web sites, they also can write lengthy and hard-hitting stories that take time and resources to produce.
Amanda Bennett, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is executive editor for projects and investigations. She calls on Bloomberg reporters from around the globe to help with stories, Bennett says, like when they followed copper from Chile to homes in China.
Perhaps more important, Bennett says, is the support she has received from the top to pursue large projects. When she and reporter Mark Pittman approached Winkler in 2008 and announced that they wanted to sue the Federal Reserve to force it to disclose details about $2 trillion in emergency loans made during the financial crisis, his response was, "Great!" (Pittman, who won the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for a 2007 series on the breakdown of the mortgage industry, died in 2009.)
Bloomberg editors are quick to point out a number of projects that have led to congressional hearings or government policy changes. Last year, an investigation by Bloomberg Markets concluded that more than 130 life insurance companies were "duping" the families of deceased soldiers, government workers and millions of other Americans by withholding interest earned on billions of dollars in death benefits. The New York Times ran a short version of the story, and the Washington Post ran nearly the entire piece on the front of its Sunday business section. A number of other outlets, including CBS and NPR, produced their own stories on the issue. In response, Andrew M. Cuomo, then New York's attorney general and now its governor, launched a fraud investigation. Other states' insurance departments followed suit. Congress held hearings. And, ultimately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs adopted new safeguards to protect benefits.
Kaufman, the education team leader, sent three reporters around the country during a year-long investigation into for-profit colleges. The resulting stories reported that for-profit colleges were a $30 billion a year business that reaped taxpayer money by making misleading promises to vulnerable populations, including disabled veterans, homeless people, immigrants and minorities. Bloomberg's 10 long narrative stories and 60 or 70 shorter ones led to Senate hearings and widespread coverage in many other outlets, including PBS' "Frontline."
"That is the kind of stuff that newspapers used to do a lot of," Kaufman says in a telephone interview from his base in Boston. "Not only are they not doing it anymore, but we're doing it with the kind of resources that certainly I've never had." I heard that sentiment repeatedly from Bloomberg reporters and editors, many of whom I have known for years. Their outlook was noticeably sunnier than that of most newspaper reporters I talk to these days.
"The question at Bloomberg is, 'What can we do?' and the question at most newspapers is, 'What can I do without?' " says Bloomberg's Washington bureau chief, Michael Tackett, a veteran of the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.
Adds Mike Dorning, the senior White House correspondent who left the Chicago Tribune for Bloomberg in August 2009: "It's nice to work for something where things are possible, where things are ambitious, where you think tomorrow might be better than today. It's hard to work for a place where people think tomorrow will be worse than today."
Traditional news outlets have been struggling to figure out how to make it to tomorrow, how to get out of bankruptcy or stave off more layoffs or finally make money off the Internet. Newspapers, as a rule, are not laying out grandiose plans for growth.
They are fighting to survive until tomorrow.
Bloomberg is fighting, too, not to survive, not even to thrive. Those appear to be givens. Remember the mission? Bloomberg is striving to increase its influence, its dominance as a news organization.
"It's sort of a breathtaking goal, isn't it?" says Clark Hoyt, a former public editor for the New York Times who now is an editor at large in Bloomberg's Washington bureau. "An inspiring goal."
The news outlet has come a long way in its first two decades. It has been on a trajectory that, by just about any measure, is impressive.
But can it become the most influential news organization in the world? The mere question reeks of hubris.
Or does it? Perhaps it is a way to move the goal forward, a way to prevent complacency from setting in.
"To be the best, you have to aspire to something that's beyond your immediate grasp," Winkler says. "If we really believe in excellence and we believe in making what we do here better than ever, the only way to achieve that outcome is to aspire to be the most influential."
Doctoroff cushions his ambition -- at least, a little bit. "I think in the intermediate term -- a few years -- our goal is to become the most influential provider of business and financial news, which is our core," he says. "And once we get there, we'll raise our sights further.
"It's just a question of time."